Jusuf Nurkic

Northwest Notes: Dort, Malone, Nurkic, Collins

A rookie guard who was virtually unknown a few months ago may have changed the shape of the Thunder’s first-round series, writes Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman. Luguentz Dort made life difficult for Rockets star James Harden whenever they were matched up in Saturday’s Game 3, setting the stage for Oklahoma City to rally for a badly needed overtime victory.

Harden scored 38 points, but shot just 7-for-21 while Dort was in the game. The rookie has shown an ability to stay in front of the league’s top scorer and force him into contested 3-pointers.

“We know Lu and what he does,” Shai Gilgeous-Alexander said. “That’s what we expect every night.”

Dort’s defensive prowess leaves coach Billy Donovan with a difficult choice moving forward, notes Royce Young of ESPN. The Thunder need Dort to counteract Harden, but that means sitting out one member of the unit that normally closes games. An injury to Steven Adams dictated the decision Saturday, but Donovan may have to adjust his regular lineup for the rest of the series.

There’s more from the Northwest Division:

  • It’s too soon to think about firing Michael Malone, but Mark Kiszla of The Denver Post believes trust between the Nuggets coach and his players is broken after two straight lopsided losses to the Jazz. Malone questioned his team’s resolve after Game 3, saying, “I think we give in too easy” and “Our group has to be a lot more mentally tough.” Denver doesn’t have a hard-nosed leader in the locker room, Kiszla adds, and its closest thing to a “glue guy” is Will Barton, who left Orlando to rehab his injured knee.
  • The strain of returning to a high-pressure environment 17 months after suffering a compound fracture in his leg is beginning to show on Trail Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic, observes Anthony Slater of The Athletic. Players are usually brought along slowly after such a serious injury, but Nurkic is being asked to log heavy minutes in a playoff setting. Slater notes that an injury to Zach Collins and a lack of production from Hassan Whiteside leaves Portland with no other options.
  • Collins talks with Jason Quick of The Athletic about the frustration of having a second serious injury within 12 months. Collins, who is coming off surgery on his left shoulder, now has a hairline fracture in his left ankle that doctors discovered before Game 2. “You don’t want to be a downer in front of your team and get everybody’s mood down,” he said. “They don’t need that. But definitely, when I got back (to the hotel) and talked with my agent and my parents, it all kind of hits you. It hits you that you are going to have to go through a whole another process again.”

COVID-19 Notes: Nurkic, Testing, Roster Moves, Bamba

Trail Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic turned in one of the best games of his career Saturday, shortly after learning that his grandmother had died of COVID-19, writes Jason Owens of Yahoo Sports. Nurkic helped Portland claim the eighth seed in the West with 22 points, 21 rebounds, and six assists in a win over Memphis, but admitted he was almost too devastated to take the court.

“I didn’t want to play. She made me play,” Nurkic said afterward. “… I’m glad we won and are in the playoffs. That’s what we came for.”

Nurkic briefly considered leaving the Disney World campus after his grandmother was diagnosed in late July. He has been one of the keys to the resurgent Blazers after being sidelined for more than a year with a compound fracture in his left leg.

There’s more coronavirus-related news:

  • The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has granted emergency approval to a saliva-based test for COVID-19 that was funded by the NBA and its players union, according to Zach Lowe of ESPN. Developed at Yale University, the test, called SalivaDirect, is intended for public screening. It was given to some NBA players and staff members in Orlando, and the results nearly matched the nasal swab test that is now is widespread use. “(The Yale test) loses a little bit of sensitivity, but what we gain is speed and that it should be up to 10 times cheaper,” said Nathan Grubaugh, an assistant professor of epidemiology at Yale.
  • With the seeding games over, the NBA’s rules for roster moves have changed, tweets Bobby Marks of ESPN. The 16 teams remaining in Orlando can only replace players who test positive for the virus, and the new player can’t have more than three years of NBA experience. Prior to Saturday, teams were still permitted to replace players who decided to opt out.
  • Mohamed Bamba and the Magic hope further medical testing will determine why he had so much physical difficulty after contracting the coronavirus, writes Iliana Limon Romero of The Orlando Sentinel. Bamba felt strong when he arrived at Disney World, but he was never able to fully get back into game shape. He left the campus Friday and is done for the season. “Mo went home and he’s going to have tests so that we can find out what the issues are for sure,” coach Steve Clifford explained. “He had been working hard and he just didn’t feel good. So he wasn’t seeing progress in his conditioning level, so this is the smart thing to do and to find out for sure to find out why he was having the problems he was having.”

Western Notes: Wiggins, Nurkic, Daniels, Davis

Warriors coach Steve Kerr sought input from Tom Thibodeau after the team acquired Andrew Wiggins back in February, Marc Berman details in a story for the New York Post.

Thibodeau, who coached Wiggins in Minnesota from 2016-19, gave Kerr advice on how to maximize Wiggins’ game and playstyle. Golden State traded for Wiggins in a deal that shipped away D’Angelo Russell, acquiring a wing they hope can succeed alongside Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.

“We had just traded for Andrew Wiggins and he was really helpful,’’ Kerr said. “I had a long conversation with [Thibodeau] about Andrew. He gave me some good advice on ways to connect with Andrew, how much he enjoyed coaching him and why. We’ve gotten to know each other over the years. [Thibodeau has] been very helpful to us.”

The Timberwolves fired Thibodeau in January of 2019 after he reportedly failed to connect with a number of his players. Wiggins didn’t appear to be one of these players, however, as Kerr explained. It’s a vital reason why Kerr was elated to hear Thibodeau’s advice, along with how he’s a proven, veteran NBA coach.

“He showed some X’s and O’s and went over some actions they ran for [Wiggins],” Kerr said. “Some of the things they were trying to do. The thing with Tom is he’s a workaholic, loves the X’s and O’s, loves breaking down film and takes great joy in it. Our staff values his opinion.’’

“What is apparent is he and Andrew had a great relationship and Andrew said that as well. I know Andrew told me he really enjoyed playing for him and appreciated his commitment. When a coach knows his stuff and gets along with his players, he’s got a great chance to succeed. I think Tom’s got a great shot.’

Here are some other notes from the Western Conference:

  • The Blazers are rallying around Jusuf Nurkic as his grandmother battles COVID-19, Jason Quick of The Athletic writes. Nurkic learned the news last week and immediately urged his grandmother to visit a hospital. “I think people don’t realize that s— is real out there, man,” Nurkic said. “We’ve been fortunate to be here and in a safe environment, being tested every day, but please … take care of yourself. Wear your damn mask … if you are outside, by yourself, do what you got to do. But if you are inside … protect people.”
  • Nuggets guard Troy Daniels discussed his time with the Lakers, his path to Denver and more in an interview with Mike Singer of the Denver Post. Daniels was waived by the Lakers on March 1 and signed with the Nuggets four days later. “Early in my years, my agent used to tell me, he said it’s always good to be wanted,” Daniels said. “It’s good to feel wanted, and I want to be where I’m wanted.”
  • The Lakers could benefit from keeping Anthony Davis active by ensuring that he gets plenty of shots, Anthony Slater of The Athletic writes. Davis scored just 14 points in the team’s loss against Toronto on Saturday, shooting just 2-of-7 from the field. However, he believes he made the right decisions based on how the Raptors were guarding him. “We didn’t shoot the ball extremely well tonight at all from the field or from 3, which kind of let them continue with their game plan of doubling me,” Davis said. “I think if we had made a couple of shots, then they would’ve definitely changed a little bit.” 

Northwest Notes: Wolves, SGA, Nurkic, Nuggets, Gobert

As Glen Taylor considers a potential sale of the Timberwolves, one of his top priorities is making sure the team remains in Minnesota. Sources tell Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic that any purchase agreement will likely include steep financial penalties for moving the franchise, while Chris Hine of The Star Tribune reports that the Wolves already have an agreement with the city to pay a $50MM penalty if they move before 2035.

Meanwhile, Krawczynski writes that Taylor and the Timberwolves have been “inundated” with interest over the last couple weeks. According to The Athletic, there are at least five “legitimate” bidders besides the groups that include former NBA players Kevin Garnett and Arron Afflalo.

While it remains to be seen which group might emerge as the most serious suitor for the Timberwolves, Taylor tells The Star Tribune that one group – a family from out of state – is further along in the process than the others.

Here’s more from around the Northwest:

  • Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman suggests that Shai Gilgeous-Alexander‘s superstar potential should dissuade the Thunder from engaging in a full-fledged teardown in a year or two, since acquiring a player with SGA’s upside would be the goal of such a process.
  • Ramona Shelburne of ESPN takes an in-depth look at Jusuf Nurkic‘s long recovery from the broken leg that sidelined him for 16 months, exploring what the Trail Blazers center gained from losing a year to that injury. “​For me to be on the sideline for 16 months, watching the team play and just being around them as more of a coach than as a player,” Nurkic said, “it gives you a totally different perspective for the game, for life, for my team and family.”
  • The health and conditioning of his players are among Michael Malone‘s most pressing concerns with the Nuggets‘ seeding games about to get underway, writes Mike Singer of The Denver Post. Injuries and late arrivals make it unclear which players will be at full speed when Denver resumes play on Saturday, Singer observes.
  • Rudy Gobert‘s positive coronavirus test on March 11 shut down the NBA. Four-and-a-half months later, it was Gobert scoring the game-winning basket for the Jazz in the first game of the NBA’s restart. As Tim MacMahon of ESPN details, Gobert said on Thursday night that he’s “grateful” to be in a position to get back on the court and resume the season. “Life works in mysterious ways,” he said.

Northwest Notes: Roberson, Donovan, Porter, Blazers

Thunder forward Andre Roberson hasn’t been a part of the team’s rotation since the first half of the 2017/18 season, having dealt with a series of knee issues that have prevented him from returning to the court. As Royce Young of ESPN details, Roberson finally appears to be close to making his comeback after more than two years of recovery and rehabilitation.

“(It has been) basically a big roller coaster of emotions,” Roberson said of his rehab process. “Just being so close, and then something else would happen. Setback after setback. I don’t know man, it was just tough. … (There were) definitely a lot of times I was ready to give up.”

Roberson, who last suited up on January 27, 2018, says he feels as if he’s “finally ready” to play, though the Thunder won’t raise expectations or put any pressure on the defensive specialist by penciling in for a major role right away. As Young points out, if Roberson plays at all during Oklahoma City’s August 1 restart opener, he’ll have gone 916 days between games.

Here’s more from around the Northwest:

  • Although Thunder head coach Billy Donovan is on an expiring contract, Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman expects the two sides to work out an agreement to keep Donovan in his current role beyond this season.
  • Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr. has cleared his initial quarantine period at the NBA’s campus, a source tells Mike Singer of The Denver Post (Twitter link). Porter still needs to pass a cardiac screening to be cleared to practice, but the team is taking small steps toward getting its full roster available.
  • The Trail Blazers – and head coach Terry Stotts – were happy with what they saw on Thursday from Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins, who were playing for the first time in 16 months and nine months, respectively. As Jason Quick of The Athletic writes, the team still wants to experiment with frontcourt options in its next two inter-squad scrimmages before deciding on a starting five for the seeding games. “Right now, I would like to see Nurk and Hassan Whiteside out there together and we can make decisions after that,” Stotts said. “At this point, I’m just keeping an open mind about it.”

Northwest Notes: Blazers, Roberson, Thunder, Dozier

With Trevor Ariza unavailable for the NBA’s restart this summer, Damian Lillard thinks the Trail Blazers could opt for a big starting lineup that features Carmelo Anthony at the three (Twitter link via Royce Young of ESPN).

As Jason Quick of The Athletic writes, Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts confirmed that returning center Jusuf Nurkic will reenter the starting lineup alongside Lillard, Anthony, and CJ McCollum. That leaves one starting spot up for grabs, and if Portland goes big, Zach Collins or even Hassan Whiteside could occupy that last spot.

“I haven’t ruled out starting Hassan and Nurk together,” Stotts said when discussing the Trail Blazers’ lineup. “Why not? … It gives you something to write about.”

Stotts, who referred to Ariza as the Trail Blazers’ top perimeter defender, suggested that the team will fill that hole in its rotation with a “by-committee” approach. As Quick details, Anthony, Gary Trent Jr., Mario Hezonja, and Nassir Little could all play a role in that committee.

Here’s more from around the Northwest:

  • Thunder forward Andre Roberson, who hasn’t played in an NBA game in two-and-a-half years, has been participating in individual workouts at the club’s practice facility, head coach Billy Donovan told reporters on Wednesday (link via Joe Mussatto of The Oklahoman). Roberson’s availability for the restart will be determined after the team sees him in action in five-on-five workouts.
  • Chesapeake Energy Corporation, the company that owns the naming rights for the Thunder‘s arena, filed for bankruptcy on Sunday, as Royce Young of ESPN writes. Chesapeake’s agreement with the Thunder runs through the 2022/23 season — it’s not clear how that deal will be affected by the company’s bankruptcy.
  • PJ Dozier‘s new deal with the Nuggets is a three-year pact that was completed the team’s using mid-level exception, as Jeff Siegel of Early Bird Rights notes (via Twitter). It features minimum salaries in all three seasons, including about $183K this season and a partial guarantee of $1.2MM in 2020/21, for a total guarantee in the neighborhood of $1.4MM.

Injury Updates: Gordon, Kaminsky, Blazers, Isaac

Rockets shooting guard Eric Gordon expects to be able to play if the 2019/20 NBA season resumes, per Fox 26 Houston’s Mark Berman (Twitter link). Gordon, who underwent November right knee surgery, has been in and out of the lineup since then. The extra two months off (and counting) provided by the pause in NBA play has been beneficial for Gordon’s health.

“I’ll be ready to roll (if play resumes),” Gordon said. “I can only focus solely on this team and basketball.”

There are further health updates from around the NBA:

  • Suns big man Frank Kaminsky, out since January with a right patella stress fracture, claims that he is now “ready to make a push towards playing again” if the NBA resumes regular season play, according to Gina Mizell of The Athletic (Twitter link).
  • The Trail Blazers frontcourt will be getting some serious reinforcements if the NBA’s regular season returns, The Athletic’s Jason Quick reports. Starting center Jusuf Nurkic, sidelined since breaking his leg on March 25, 2019, and starting power forward Zach Collins, out of commission since undergoing surgery for a dislocated left shoulder three games into his season, are now both fully healthy. Blazers All-NBA guard Damian Lillard expressed excitement for their return to what had been an injury-ravaged Portland roster. “It’s going to be a completely different situation, and we’ll be close to full strength,” Lillard said.
  • The status of Magic forward Jonathan Isaac for the rest of the 2019/20 season remains up in the air, according to Josh Robbins of The Athletic (Twitter link). A serious knee injury paused Isaac’s third season on January 1st. Isaac, one of the team’s most promising young players, ran on an Alter-G anti-gravity treadmill earlier this week. This marked the first time he had run at all since the injury.

Eastern Notes: Nurkic, Bulls, Hawks, Sixers

Jusuf Nurkic, who was technically selected by Chicago with the No. 16 overall pick back in 2014, believed “100%” that he was going to the Bulls, as he explains on his Twitter feed. Nurkic had received a visit from a team scout had visited him prior to the draft and he claims he was told Chicago would also select Gary Harris. Both players’ draft rights were sent to Denver on draft night in exchange for Doug McDermott, who was taken with the No. 11 overall pick.

Here’s more from the Eastern Conference:

  • New Bulls GM Arturas Karnisovas was an assistant in Denver’s front office when the two teams executed that draft-night trade. There’s no telling what kind of moves Karnisovas will make in his new role, though as Rob Schaefer of NBC Sports Chicago notes, a main reason why Denver eventually dealt Nurkic before he truly broke out was the presence of Nikola Jokic. Chicago has no such superstar in its frontcourt.
  • Although Clint Capela hasn’t had a chance to suit up for the Hawks, the big man should be a good fit with the team’s current core, Mark Schanowski of NBC Sports Chicago contends. Atlanta acquired Capela in a 12-player deal at the trade deadline.
  • The Sixers will be remembered for underachieving if the NBA season doesn’t resume, Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer argues. Philadelphia didn’t live up to the hype after a splashy offseason that included a trade for Josh Richardson and the signing of Al Horford.

NBA G League Assignments/Recalls: 3/11/20

Here are today’s G League assignments and recalls from around the NBA:

Jusuf Nurkic Plans To Return On March 15

Trail Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic intends to make his return to the court on March 15 against Houston, according to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports (via Twitter). Nurkic will be making his comeback nearly a year after suffering the devastating leg injuries that sidelined him for the end of the 2018/19 season and most of the 2019/20 campaign.

“I’m ready to help my team make the playoffs,” Nurkic told Haynes. “It’s time.”

Nurkic suffered compound fractures in his left tibia and fibula on March 25, 2019 against Brooklyn and has been working his way back since then. The Blazers never offered a concrete timeline for when he might return, but reports earlier in the season suggested it might happen around the All-Star break.

Although Nurkic didn’t hit that unofficial target, having reportedly strained his calf when he returned to practice in January, he remains on track to make it back well before the end of the regular season. Last week, the big man talked about needing more practice time to get up to speed — it sounds like that will happen before next Sunday.

A March 15 return would line up Nurkic to play in some or all of Portland’s remaining 15 games, though it remains to be seen how big a role he’ll have. In his conversation with Haynes, he acknowledged that getting used to the speed of NBA games will be a challenge after his year-long layoff.

“I’m not going to be playing 40 minutes,” Nurkic said. “But for me, mentally, I need to get these reps in before I can play (extended minutes). Physically, I’m good. I had a calf strain recently, which is normal for the injury I had. I’ve been pleased with where my rehab is going. I never doubted I’d be back, but I had to make sure I was 100 percent. I can’t wait for (March 15).”

Nurkic was having the best season of his NBA career in 2018/19 before the injury, averaging 15.6 PPG, 10.4 RPG, 3.2 APG, and 1.4 BPG in 72 games (27.4 MPG). This year, Hassan Whiteside has taken over starting center duties for the Blazers and leads the league with 3.1 BPG. Nurkic’s comments to Haynes suggest he’s willing to take a back seat to Whiteside in the season’s final month if it helps the team win.

“He’s my teammate,” Nurkic said. “I don’t know the plans going forward, but my mind is on how I’m going to help this team make the playoffs. We just need to sacrifice our games for the team’s good, do the little things that don’t show on the stat sheet and put our games together for possibly the playoffs. We have a chance, and when you have a chance, you’ve got to go get it.”

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.